Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 2

Natural Born Skeptic

So there I was, a kid growing up in New York City in the 1990s, hailing from a secular home, and completely non-religious. I wasn’t all that different from my peers around me to be honest with you. New York is what I like to call the secular metropolis. Most of my peers and friends growing up weren’t religious at all. None of any of my close friends went to church. Belief in god and religion almost never came up in conversation. Looking back it seemed we were all a bunch of teenage nihilists, with a healthy rebellious spirit. We’d rather drink beer, talk about music and girls and ideas on how to get into trouble to keep us from being bored. Throughout all of my teen years I went through life basically living under the assumption of atheism. I seemed to have an intrinsic inclination towards the naturalistic worldview. I don’t recall ever believing that there were supernatural agencies at work behind anything that happened to me. I even thought that the spiritual idea of karma and the “what goes around, comes around” philosophy was nothing but wishful unsubstantiated nonsense. To me, things just happened, and it was foolish to look for a deeper intentional agency to explain what naturally occurred. When I got an outbreak of acne as a teenager, I didn’t go blaming it on god or karma; I blamed it on my genes that I inherited from my parents as the root cause. There was always a rational scientific explanation in my worldview.

There was one time when I was about 8 or 9 and was playing in the park that was part of the apartment complex I grew up in with the neighborhood kids and I remember this strange girl suddenly showed up. Her name was “Linda” and no one had ever seen her before.  She must’ve been visiting someone living nearby, perhaps a relative. I remember her trying to play with us and that all she wanted to talk about was god and that Jesus Christ died for our sins and how we all needed to recognize this amazing event. We weren’t particularly amused. At some point, I remember sitting down with her on one of the benches with my friends and I was spearheading a campaign of rationalism and doubt against her infatuation with the divinity of Jesus and her insistence that we all believe like her. My memories are a little fuzzy, but I recall that we went back and forth debating for hours until dusk that afternoon. Then there were other times when someone would make a speech about how karma rules the world, and I instinctually interjected with a dose of skepticism against such claims letting it be known that there was no such evidence to justify those beliefs. It seems that I was a natural born skeptic, or perhaps a natural born atheist. When Blasé Pascal spoke of the person who says to himself, “[I] am so made that I cannot believe”, he was speaking about people like me.

In high school I started hanging out with these kids who were wannabe Satanists. They were metal heads who fancied death metal and thrash metal and rejected most mainstream alternative and hard rock as being too “gay”. Although I never quite got into death metal, I started getting into Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails and thoroughly enjoyed the caricatures they made about the religious right’s hypocrisy. In this new crowd that I hung out with, it was cool to hate on and make fun of religions like Christianity. I couldn’t have imagined what it would’ve been like to have been an actual practicing believer in god during those days. I would’ve most likely have had to keep those beliefs “in the closet” so to speak or else face the taunts and teases and possibility of being ostracized. But still, even in this anti religious environment in the late 1990s in high school, when death metal music and Marilyn Manson were at their peaks, I wasn’t at all a militant atheist. I never spoke adamantly about my lack of faith in god; I was never confrontational or tried to convert others to think like me. I pretty much kept my atheism to myself, only making it publicly known when the topic of god occasionally came up. But whenever god or religion did come up, I always remember expressing the voice of doubt towards anyone who even remotely believed.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teenage Identity Crisis: A Painful Reminiscence

Now for a momentary digression away from religion, to a painful reminiscence of my adolescence.

I was just watching a show recently about the evolution of grunge and its affect on heavy metal and it brought back some rather painful memories. I came of age in what is known as the "post-grunge" era of the late 90s and early 2000s. Back when I was a teenager at this time, I had sort of an identity crisis. I didn't quite know who I was, and I didn't quite fit in anywhere. At that time there were mainstream super bands like Creed and alternative rock/punk acts like Blink 182, and I hated those bands so much. You still had heavy metal, thrash metal and death metal that were popular, and I hung out with a lot of kids who were metal heads, but I didn't quite fit in with them. I liked some heavy metal, but I never really got into the music as hard core as some of my friends did and I never was a total head banging metal head. There was industrial metal like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson that I kind of gravitated more towards but I never fully embraced these genres by dressing goth or putting make up on. About as far as I could go was to dress all in black. Then of course there was rap music that was evolving out of that classic, golden era sound that I liked years before and so my interest in rap was waning.

So I was struggling to fit in. I was in a total identity crisis. I wasn't a metal head, I hated the mainstream alternative acts; I wasn't a thug into hip hop anymore, and my interest in industrial metal was never strong enough to make me part of the industrial scene. To be honest with you, I hated the culture of the late 90s. I hated the hairstyles, with their stupid gelled spikes and the lame ass scruffy goatees. I hated the big baggy clothing, the baggy rave pants, and wearing all black because you had to be dark because colors were too gay. I am so glad that era is over and I never want it to come back.

I honestly like the times we are living in now much more. I like the fashion much more and the music. What happened during the late 90s for me is that I started to get into the old school bands. I got into The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and then The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Iggy & The Stooges. I got into the roots bands that all the genres of the day had evolved from. I felt like I should have been born 30 years earlier. Then when the garage rock revival happened, around when The Strokes came out, in 2001, suddenly retro was in. A whole generation, fed up with the music they were being force-fed by the music industry rediscovered the bands of yesteryear and suddenly the culture around me became fused with the bands that I was already listening to. The indie/hipster culture emerged, and I suddenly found my calling. I found out that there were many other people out there like me, fascinated by music that predated our births. And although this new sub-culture was comparatively small compared to the mainstream alternative scene, my identity crisis began to subside. By the time this happened however, I was already out of high school, and perhaps it was a little to late, but it is always better late than never.

As you get older "fitting in" becomes less and less of a concern. I now pride myself on being unique in my own way and don't feel like I fit into any particular subculture. But as an awkward, zit-faced teenager, I didn't have the social skills and confidence to pull of such attitude effectively. If I could describe myself now, it would be a world travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual, with style. I dress a little retro like some of my rock star heroes, I also spiffy it up with some class. But I'm basically a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy, with the occasional flannel button down. I don't go crazy with the super skinny jeans, but I like my jeans kind of tight.  I'm growing my hair out a bit longer now because I feel that I might as well get the most out of it before I go bald. I pretty much always have a beard or some kind of facial hair, as long as it is not in the stupid 90s style of mustache-less goatees.

There are certain kinds of people who never change their style. The way they were during their formative adolescent years leaves such an impression of them, that they are forever cast in that mold, and unable to change. I have a metal head friend like that. He dresses in the same old metal head t-shirts that he wore back in 1997, and he's got the same old long-haired heavy metal do that he more or less had back then too. Some people never change. Me personally, I evolve constantly. My hair, my style, my interests, are always changing. I'm never the same person for more than a few years and I like that. Now that I'm more confident and more sure of who I am, the identity crisis is over. Long live the '10s!!!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Generation Why?

I am now 30 years old. I don't know how it happened, but it did. My twenties somehow vanished. But I have the ability now to reflect back on 20 years of cultural change. I was reading recently about my generation, the so called "millennials", also known as Generation Y. No one fully agrees when the dates of any generation begin and end, but Generation Y usually begins around 1980 or 1981. I am very lucky to have been born just before the internet and cell phones became ubiquitous because a whole generation of teenagers now have no idea what it is like not to have the internet instantly at the tip of their fingers via a laptop, tablet, or smart phone.

Back in the early 1990s when I was a young tween, nobody had heard of the internet except for some of those deep in the IT industry. It has been said that this was the last era of innocence in the America. In order to get porn, we had to get our hands on a magazine, which wasn't always so easy, or we had to get access to the dirty channels on cable, which also wasn't so easy. Now all of that trouble is gone due to the internet. The early 90s was the last time when you didn't have mountains of information so easily accessible just like parents didn't have.

We didn't have cell phones either. If you wanted to call someone outside you needed a payphone and the person you were calling had to be home. I remember when the beeper was the hot must have item, especially among Hip Hop heads. Of coarse I never had one. When cell phones started becoming more popular around 2000, it changed everything. Suddenly you couldn't pretend to not be home or have missed the call. Now you were accessible where ever you were, and there was backlash against it. I remember not being the only person I hung out with who hated cell phones when they first came out. Not only did you have to overhear people's annoying conversations outside, they always seemed to interrupt at just the wrong moment. I got a cell phone relatively late compared to most of my friends because I held out for so long until finally realizing resistance was futile. Now I feel naked leaving home without one.

Culturally I remember the 90s through the lens of the Hip Hop culture of New York, that was pierced with grunge. Until the late 90s, I never paid much attention to any other music other than Hip Hop. For me most of the 90s was baggy pants, wannabe gangsta looks, fades, graffiti, Wu-tang Clan, and bike rides around my 'hood on my BMX. During my Jr. High School years I used to hang out with this older Romanian kid who had zits all over his face. He was a trouble maker who used to lie constantly to show off. Behind a hill we called Dead Man's Hill there was this abandoned lot a block from my house that the neighborhood kids and us used to break into. It had an abandoned gas station in it that you could go into and there was a tree with a rope hanging from it that you could swing from like Tarzan over a pit of broken glass and rocks. There were a lot of second generation Irish kids in the neighborhood back then that I used to know and occasionally hang out with. Most of them were troublemakers, who used to fight all the time and engage in petty vandalism. We'd smash out windows of the gas station, graffiti it up and occasionally light fires. It was like a shared club house. I never really liked any of them, and by the late 90s, most of them disappeared, probably having moved away in response to the neighborhood becoming more ethnic.

Throughout the 90s immigrants were moving in, mostly from East and South Asia and various parts of Latin America. I saw the neighborhood change from predominantly white in the early 90s, to predominantly Asian/Latino in the late 90s. When I was about 9 or 10 my best friend was this Korean kid who lived in my building. One day when we were hanging out in the lot near one of the many pits filled with broken glass and garbage and we ran into this huge group of older Korean teenagers. We befriended them and they told us stories of being jumped and having to fight with the white kids in the neighborhood who didn't like them. When I reflect back on these memories it's so weird, because today with how ethnically diverse Queens is, you would never imagine that happening, but back in the early 90s it was the reality for many of the first waves of immigrants who came to settle in the neighborhoods of Western Queens. I remember that day standing there, where all those Korean kids were standing on one side of the pit as if they were going to have their picture taken. I later found out that there were skin head gangs in New York back in the 90s. There was DMS the Doc Marten Skinheads, know for wearing Doc Marten boots. They mostly died out by the late 90s and I never ran into them. Had I been about 5 years older I might have known or seen some of them.

I remember growing up with Generation X in mind during the 90s. When I got to High School, my first encounter with metal and grunge culture enlightened me to a whole new lifestyle that I knew next to nothing about. I started hanging out with them and I learned about the music they listened to. Back then I thought this metal/grunge culture was very much a part of Gen X. Nirvana, although disbanded after the death of Kurt Cobain was still very popular, and it was Nirvana that I associated with Generation X more than any other. Gen X was the generation of not giving a shit about anything, of hating society, hating school, not conforming, and being nihilistic in every sense. I think of lot of us who came of age in the 90s identified with this ideology. Being at the cusp of Generation Y I feel halfway in between Y and X. I don't particularly feel like I belong to any generation to be honest, but Generation Y to me are all those 20 something hipsters you see in Williamsburg.

Characteristically Generation Y is said to be more socially conscious that its predecessor. Generation Y is Generation We, who cares about the environment, animals and social justice. It became cool to be active is some sort of positive social cause for change or justice. We are are clearly headed in the right direction if even a little bit, because as I've written before, the apathy of the black community in America is responsible for many of its cyclical problems: Let's hope that Generation X's apathy will not remain a long term generational practice. Furthermore since I'm political, I like being part of a generation that is socially conscious.

So when I reflect on my generation years from now what will I remember? I think Generation Y's care will have inspired the following generations to carry the torch, although I'm not all that concerned with it. I hope that the greedy corporate fucks who are running the show now, many of them Boomers, will die out as Generation X and Y replaces them with a more compassionate view of the world and the people in it. That's hope for you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Manhattan Memories

Back in the 1990s when I was a fledgling teenager, my father used to live on east 15th street in Manhattan. Since my parents had divorced, I'd go and visit him sometimes on the weekends. He lived in this tiny railroad apartment in a prewar, 6 story walk up that was so old and rickety, the floors and walls were literally caved in. There was this sense that the whole building could collapse at any moment. There was never any sun light that shined through the windows because there was another building about 6 feet away. This meant you had to keep the lights on even in the middle of the day. Depressing at this may sound, what made up for it was the fact that right outside was downtown Manhattan.

My father had close friend who had two sons a little younger than me. He had an Italian wife and they lived in Stuyvesant Town just a few blocks away. They were a typical Manhattan family, politically liberal and cultured, although they were not quite yuppies. This was the mid 1990s, back when a working class blue collar family could afford to live in Manhattan. We would all get together, sometimes accompanied with my dad's girlfriend, and go do things in the city. We'd go to the South Street Sea Port, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Museums. Sometimes we'd just walk around downtown and take in outdoor street festivals and shows. We'd always eat out at restaurants. They were good times. There was always an exciting cultural event that was going on. After all, this was Manahattan, and rarely ever a let down.

I have few pictures from that era; this was the days before digital cameras. I do have memories however. There were these neighborhood kids several years older than me who we knew that would hang out on the stoops of the apartments. They were Latino, new-yoricans, most likely. Downtown kids, before it became so fashionable. We went to Katz Deli over on Houston street, and my dad, always the outgoing one, would joke about the orgasm scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally that was filmed there. We'd go to Greenwich Village when it was still very bohemian and absorb the culture. I think one time we even went during the gay pride week or parade and my dad's Irish girlfriend pointed out a bald headed man in full drag. "Only in New York" she commented. We all laughed.

I was along for the ride. My dad would pick me up in Queens and drive me to the city. We did an awful lot of driving around the city back then come to think of it. My dad after all was a limousine driver. That Lincoln Town Car I remember took us so many miles.

We'd all go out to Veniero's on 11th street and indulge in the Italian pastries while making a lot of noise. We'd walk out into the hot summer night air feeling a little relieved, still cold from the air conditioning. The hustle and bustle of the city providing the ambiance around us. Summer nights in the city when you're a teenager, so many unforgettable memories.

And it was all so secular. Religion was never a part of our adventures on the town. There was never any church or inculcation into any faith. We seemed like a bunch of secular humanists/cosmopolitan New Yorkers. There was a slight Buddhist/Hindu element from my dad's side, but never anything actual meditation or chanting. It was more like the occasional wishing to an unknown energy that you'd strike it rich. It was more like the self-serving god than anything real, whether tangible or otherwise. The secular element made it that so much better. There was no religion trying to make me feel guilty or for me to rebel against. There were no forced rituals or scriptural memorization. Religion simply just wasn't there. Thank god for that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I've had some flashbacks of years past recently. Being a bit younger and a bit more fresh-faced while amongst a crowd of friends that have long since left my life. I used to have friends that lived in my building whose apartments I'd go over to hang out. We used to play video games and watch Ducktales after school. There was an abandon lot near a hill we called Dead Man's Hill. It was our little hangout spot. It was like exploring a little jungle to us kids, filled with danger and surprise. One time, me and my best friend made it to the abandoned gas station there and saw these kids throwing rocks at the door. They said someone was in there and we just watched them throw more rocks and hurl insults. They left and eventually we saw a crazy homeless man come out. He mistook us for the perpetrators who were throwing rocks at him and he smashed me and my friend in the head with a big rock. This resulted in a police report and a brain scan at a local hospital. Other times were more pleasant. There was a big rope that hung from a tree over a ditch that you could swing on like Tarzan. There was another ditch filled with garbage that we lit on fire many times. One time the fire got particularly big and the fire department came. It was overgrown with weeds in the summer making it a perfect for playing manhunt. It's sad that I have no pictures from this time in my life. Eventually it became an apartment building and parking lot.

Then there was my foray into metal culture in High school. There's something about heavy metal culture. Metals-heads will wear the same shit everyday. They will utter the word dude as often as possible. New York metal-heads throw in a bit of hip hop slang in it too. It's a culture that is more preserved and less in touch with the times. Hip hop culture changes by the minute, but a metal-head from '89 might look exactly like a metal-head from '98. They were working class kids mostly from Astoria. Greek, Italian, Irish, Eastern European. Music was always a topic of discussion, which made me insecure since when I first started hanging with them, I didn't know much about metal. You could be publicly tested at any moment of your heavy metal knowledge. There was a game we played where we'd form a circle and we'd have to name a metal band based on the alphabet starting from A. When you couldn't name one you were out. Only the most hardcore and knowledgeable metal would be left standing. There was a strict feeling of conformity I remember. That's why high school is never a good time for most. I didn't dress like a metal head, and didn't know shit about metal. My first jump into anything rock at all was believe-it-or-not Marilyn Manson. Then it was Nine Inch nails. I got into Industrial Metal first since I guess it's an easier transition from Hip Hop. Then I got into classic rock and only just barely got into the Thrash and Death Metal.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer's almost gone.

While studying and sharpening up my IT skills I've burned out a little bit and need to take a writing break. There's a heat wave blanketing the city. Temps are in the mid-90s. I've been stuck home for the past several days. There really is no reason to go out in this oppressive heat. Why would I want to swelter outside in the heat and humidity? The only reason I can think of would be to rejoice in what will probably be the last time temperatures are in the 90s until next summer. Heat waves always make it feel like summer. I've always liked the way summer felt. Some of my greatest memories have been during the summer. I like warm weather. I have a new appreciation for the fall but it's never an easy transition from hot to cold for me. I always want summer to last a little longer.

Don't go away summer! Last until October please!

I used to think really hot summers meant really cold winters followed. I hate especially cold winters. A little snow is OK. I don't have to drive and I don't live in a house so I don't have to shovel anything. We want it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. NY in the winter appears more urban. There aren't any green patches to contradict the concrete. The concrete wins. I'm in so much debt that I might not even be able to go shopping this fall to get new clothes. I'll have to come up with new ways to recycle my old looks. I kind of gotten out of the whole fashion thing recently anyway, but the urge does pop up from time to time.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Change is the only thing that's constant

I'm starting to learn that many good writers write daily, sometimes for hours. I've noticed that I make usually about a half dozen entries on this blog a month. Maybe I should be writing more. After all the more I write the better I will become at it. Great writers also read a lot also. I read a lot on the internet. I read a lot of news, but a great deal of my knowledge lately has come from watching videos on YouTube that explain concepts of science and philosophy and economics. This is very typical of the young today who can't even deal with the cliff notes anymore and have resorted to watching and listening to videos instead of actually reading about any of it. It is a pattern that a friend advised me to not get comfortable with.

Spelling is not an issue anymore thanks to the spell check mechanism. But spell check cannot make you a exceptional writer. I hate the laziness that comes and goes in me. I don't even have to get off my couch to do what I am doing now, and still I find an excuse to be lazy and not do it. Remember when you had to actually go out to obtain knowledge about a subject, to the library in the freezing cold? Those days are long gone and with it, that energy one had to have.

I did keep a written journal for years at a time and wrote several notebooks worth of events, documenting various stages of my life from high school to as recently as a few months ago. I still have one that I stopped writing in and for some reason I guess I stopped, maybe because of this blog. But in my notebooks I would write much more personal things regarding my personal life, and on this blog I've chosen for it to not be about my silly mundane day-to-day problems. My old journals I burned and destroyed years ago so no one could read them. I guess I wish I could have saved them until now, they'd be fascinating to read.

I really wish I was writing about my experiences hanging out with metal heads in high school in the 90s. It was a great era and subculture to document since a lot has changed in New York in the past ten years, and also because the heavy metal culture that existed back then has significantly waned. Change is the only thing that's constant. And that's never more true than in the secular metropolis.

High school was tough. I had a really hard time fitting in. Even among my own clique I was kind of the outcast. It took me a really long time to find myself, and to find my place. I'm still kind of looking but I'm a lot more focused now. I really wish back then I had the knowledge I have now, or at least (since saying that has become so cliche) I wish that I was as passionate about the same subjects back then as I am now (namely atheism and philosophy). I was always into atheism pretty much, but never had the passion to really dig deep into the philosophy behind it and religion. Also, I wish I had payed attention to more of the cultural changes over the years as they evolved slowly instead being shocked by seemingly abrupt changes that were really just the result of years my neglect towards them.

Monday, May 31, 2010

What's my title?

I think one annoying thing about blogging is trying to find an appropriate title for every blog. Sometime I just cant think of one that suites the blog's content or I come up with the title first and then in the blog I end up migrating away from the topic in the title.

One thing I regret is not blogging before and throwing away my all journals. I should have wrote them online so they'd be up today. I also should have written more about my life growing up and my experiences instead of just about all my anger and fears. I guess that's what was on my mind.

I like to read memoirs of people about their times growing up and of the experiences during the times and places they take a place in. I like of those movies that take place years ago. I grew up in the 1990s and should have documented more of my experiences. I witnessed a dramatic demographic shift in my neighborhood from being mostly white Irish/Polish to turning Puerto Rican, then Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Asian. The Irish kids that I knew growing up started leaving one by one during the 90s. Many of them moved out to Long Island. I remember hearing their parents complain about how the schools here were terrible and talks of moving to nicer (i.e. whiter) areas were frequent as the immigrant population began moving in from Asia and Latin America. There were Puerto Ricans here as long as I can remember, but even they too started moving out of the neighborhood to the suburbs.

I used to think that Queens was getting bad. Now 20 years later that couldn't be further from the truth. White people are moving back into the area as the gentrification has spread from Manhattan. Crime keeps dropping and quality of life keeps rising. I hardly ever worry about crime anymore. I wonder if all those Irish kids who moved out of the neighborhood years ago wish they were back where they grew up. There are benefits to living close to the city. One is not having a car. Another is being able to walk to the supermarket and stores for what you need. The most important benefit is being close to the entertainment of the big city and not having to live in a dinky boring suburb.

Seeing all the positive changes to my area has made me realize what a great asset I have right over my head. I don't think anyone realized it back in the 90s when people were still worried about crime and were thinking of moving out of the city. I'm surprised that my mom didn't move out somewhere else. She grew up in the suburbs and moved to the city, which is the opposite of what most people do.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Growing up in NYC

There is something about New Yorkers. Growing up in NYC, was great. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else. in NY you have the world at your doorstep. I had friends from all over the world. NYers party hard. Growing up me and my friends we would get drunk all the time when I was in high school. Smoking weed was just about an everyday thing also. Most people who grow up in NY like to party and drink and do drugs. I don't think there was anything wrong with that. I have two cousins who grew up in Maryland and thay were raised so goody-to-shoes to the point where I think they really missed out on a lot of life's experiences. All parents want to keep there kids from the bad things in life, I guess, I'm lucky that my parents were a bit loose.

Listen to kids who grew up in NY. Listen to their accent. NYers have a great slang that we use. Kids who grew up in NY do tend to be a little ghetto. Almost every kid in NY says the word "nigga" as if it was dude or man. Nobody else does that outside on NY. White kids in California don't use the "N" word, unless they're being racist. I'm not saying it's right or wrong it's just something about NY culture. I guess its because the hip hop culture started here, and that's why aspects of black culture are so ingrained here in the NY culture. I'm not sure exactly.

NY is the drug capital of the world. Every other friend of mine sold drugs growing up. And just about everyone was using. All the rich yuppies on Wall Street do drugs, most likely coke. If you didn't do drugs to me it seemed you were in the minority. Or maybe, my perception is just skewed in favor of drugs because my friends did drugs growing up, I'm not sure.

You can party hard in NY too. There are 10,000 bars and clubs in NY. Before I started going out I'd party at my friends cribs. We'd listen to music or make music, since many of my friends were musicians, and we'd drink and smoke. It was fun back then and I'm glad I lived it. I just wished that I had kept a journal back then to have documented some of the experiences, and turn it into a book.

Like I said I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else.


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